ansible

$25K in book sales, and I'm almost ready to publish

I started writing my first book almost two years ago. At the beginning of the project, I set an ambitious goal: Write a 90-page introductory-level technical book on some relatively new software, and sell 200 copies.

As a developer and dabbling entrepreneur, I calculated that if I sold the book for around $10-20, and wrote the book based on real-world scenarios I'd already encountered (meaning very little extra research/discovery required), I could make enough money to keep things interesting while helping a few hundred developers pick up the new software more quickly.

Almost two years later, Ansible for DevOps is almost 400 pages long and has sold over 2,000 copies—and I haven't yet published the book.

Books sold per month

What follows is an analysis of what led to this success, and some cautions for those considering writing a book.

New features in Ansible 2.0: Blocks

The following is an excerpt from Chapter 5 of Ansible for DevOps, a book on Ansible by Jeff Geerling.

Introduced in Ansible 2.0.0 (still in active development, currently in alpha), Blocks allow you to group related tasks together and apply particular task parameters on the block level. They also allow you to handle errors inside the blocks in a way similar to most programming languages' exception handling.

Here's an example playbook that uses blocks with when to run group of tasks specific to one platform without when parameters on each task:

Nginx Load Balancer Visualization on a Raspberry Pi Cluster

After some more tinkering with the Raspberry Pi Dramble (a cluster of 6 Raspberry Pis used to demonstrate Drupal 8 deployments using Ansible), I finally was able to get the RGB LEDs to react to Nginx accesses—meaning every time a request is received by Nginx, the LED toggles to red momentarily.

This visualization allows me to see exactly how Nginx is distributing requests among the servers in different load balancer configurations. The default (not only for Nginx, but also for Varnish, HAProxy, and other balancers) is to use round-robin distribution, meaning each request is sent to the next server. This is demonstrated first, in the video below, followed by a demonstration of Nginx's ip_hash method, which pins one person's IP address to one backend server, based on a hash of the person's IP address:

Simple GlusterFS Setup with Ansible

The following is an excerpt from Chapter 8 of Ansible for DevOps, a book on Ansible by Jeff Geerling.

Modern infrastructure often involves some amount of horizontal scaling; instead of having one giant server, with one storage volume, one database, one application instance, etc., most apps use two, four, ten, or dozens of servers.

GlusterFS Architecture Diagram

Many applications can be scaled horizontally with ease, but what happens when you need shared resources, like files, application code, or other transient data, to be shared on all the servers? And how do you have this data scale out with your infrastructure, in a fast but reliable way? There are many different approaches to synchronizing or distributing files across servers:

Teaching Ansible with six Raspberry Pis

Originally posted on the Server Check.in blog:

Over the course of this year, I've acquired six Raspberry Pi model 2 B computers, and configured them in a cluster (or 'bramble') so I can use them to test different infrastructure configurations, mostly for running Drupal 8. All the Ansible playbooks and instructions for building the cluster are available on the GitHub project page for the Raspberry Pi Dramble. [...]

The video demonstrates Ansible's simple and powerful model of SSH-based infrastructure management visually. It's been a lot of fun building the Dramble and hacking both the hardware and the software to make this presentation possible!

And the video, Ansible 101 - on a cluster of Raspberry Pi 2s:

Ansible 101 - on a Cluster of Raspberry Pi 2s

Ansible 101 - Raspberry Pi Dramble cluster

Over the course of this year, I've acquired six Raspberry Pi model 2 B computers, and configured them in a cluster (or 'bramble') so I can use them to test different infrastructure configurations, mostly for running Drupal 8. All the Ansible playbooks and instructions for building the cluster are available on the GitHub project page for the Raspberry Pi Dramble.

Each Raspberry Pi has its own RGB LED board that's wired into the GPIO pins, so they're controlled by software. I can demonstrate different ways of managing the cluster via Ansible, and I finally took the time to make a video, Ansible 101 - on a cluster of Raspberry Pi 2s, which shows how it all works together:

Ansible St. Louis Meetup on July 8, 2015, at Riot Games

Ansible is coming to St. Louis—the hometown of Midwestern Mac, LLC, which runs Server Check.in!

The first-ever Ansible meetup in St. Louis, MO will be held at Riot Games' offices in downtown Clayton (yes, that Riot—the company that makes League of Legends!).

Server Check.in is sponsoring refreshments for the night, and if you're interested in coming, it starts at about 7:00 p.m. There will be Ansible T-shirts and swag, and Jeff Geerling (author of Ansible for DevOps and owner of Midwestern Mac, LLC) will give a crash course in Ansible and kick off discussion on how to get started with Ansible.

See more details on the Ansible St. Louis Meetup page.

Creating custom dynamic inventories for Ansible

The following is an excerpt from Chapter 7 of Ansible for DevOps, a book on Ansible by Jeff Geerling.

Most infrastructure can be managed with a custom inventory file or an off-the-shelf cloud inventory script, but there are many situations where more control is needed. Ansible will accept any kind of executable file as an inventory file, so you can build your own dynamic inventory however you like, as long as you can pass it to Ansible as JSON.

You could create an executable binary, a script, or anything else that can be run and will output JSON to stdout, and Ansible will call it with the argument --list when you run, as an example, ansible all -i my-inventory-script -m ping.

Let's start working our own custom dynamic inventory script by outlining the basic JSON format Ansible expects:

Automating Your Automation with Ansible Tower

The following is an excerpt from Chapter 11 of Ansible for DevOps, a book on Ansible by Jeff Geerling. The example highlights the effectiveness of Ansible Tower for automating infrastructure operations, especially in a team environment.

Throughout this book, all the examples use Ansible's CLI to run playbooks and report back the results. For smaller teams, especially when everyone on the team is well-versed in how to use Ansible, YAML syntax, and follows security best practices with playbooks and variables files, using the CLI can be a sustainable approach.

But for many organizations, there are needs that stretch basic CLI use too far:

Ansible for Drupal infrastructure and deployments - DrupalCon LA 2015 BoF

We had a great discussion about how different companies and individuals are using Ansible for Drupal infrastructure management and deployments at DrupalCon LA, and I wanted to post some slides from my (short) intro to Ansible presentation here, as well as a few notes from the presentation.

The slides are below:

And video/audio from the BoF:

Notes from the BoF

If first gave an overview of the basics of Ansible, demonstrating some Ad-Hoc commands on my Raspberry Pi Dramble (a cluster of six Raspberry Pi 2 computers running Drupal 8), then we dove headfirst into a great conversation about Ansible and Drupal.

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